- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

After three decades of total vulnerability to missile attack, today marks the dawn of a new era of deployed defenses. The first five interceptors are in their silos and soon will be on alert. If President Bush continues in office, those defenses will strengthen and grow. If not, they likely will be shut down, like the earlier Safeguard missile defense in 1976.

That earlier missile defense became operational at Grand Forks, N.D., 29 years ago today, on Oct. 1, 1975. Like the missile defense of Moscow, it was equipped with nuclear-armed interceptors. Unlike Moscow’s defense, it did not protect either the capital or the American people. Instead, under the bizarre concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, it defended only a remote missile base to assure a counterattack, disregarding the millions who would die in the initial assault.

But as America’s only missile defense site was opening, the Democrat-led House of Representatives voted to close it. In the Senate, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, offered an amendment supporting the House action. As a result, the Grand Forks site was deactivated in February 1976. The arms controllers hoped the Soviet Union would follow suit, but Moscow has maintained, modernized and today still operates its missile defense, with more upgrades now under way.

What a difference a treaty makes. The opening and rapid closing of the Grand Forks missile defense came just a few years after the signing of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It was in the optimistic glow of arms control that the country’s earlier defense was killed. But time showed the arms control solution to be a one-way street. While the U.S. remained defenseless, the Soviets not only kept their defenses, but greatly increased the number of warheads and throw-weight of their offensive missiles.

That led President Reagan in 1983 to announce the Strategic Defense Initiative, enabling the Pentagon and industry to do the research needed to defend against high-speed ballistic missiles. That research demonstrated advances in computers and other technologies made it possible to hit a missile with a missile, avoiding the use of nuclear weapons.

But despite years of successful research and development, the ABM treaty prevented deployment of a national missile defense. Research could continue, but no defense could be fielded. That was the policy of President Clinton, who fought to preserve the ABM treaty while refusing to field defenses.

Mr. Bush changed all that in December 2001 when he withdrew from the treaty. A year later, he issued a presidential directive to actually deploy missile defenses for the U.S. homeland, and for U.S. forces and allies around the world, beginning in 2004. That order was all the armed forces needed. In less than two years, and while fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, they made a Herculean effort to put defenses in place.

This month, defenses become a reality. An Aegis destroyer with upgraded radar will watch for missile launches in the Sea of Japan. Interceptors in Alaska are going on alert, defending the whole country against missiles for the first time. By year’s end, the initial defense will include six 54-foot interceptors in Alaska and two in California, six upgraded Aegis destroyers in the Pacific, and interlinked sensors ranging from satellites to ground-based radars. Yet, this is just the beginning.

Next year, 10 more interceptors will be in place in Alaska, and the infrastructure will be ready for 40. Seven more Aegis cruisers and destroyers will be upgraded, with a total of 18 to be earmarked for missile defense. The giant seagoing X-band radar will operate off the Aleutian Islands, and radars in California, England and Greenland will be modernized. By late next year, the new THAAD high-altitude interceptor could be on alert and sea-based interceptors could be operational.

These plans are all in place and the Missile Defense Agency is working hard to meet the deadlines. But whether an effective defense will be sustained and improved to stay ahead of the spread of missiles and nuclear weapons depends on the outcome of the November election.

Mr. Clinton chose not to deploy missile defenses. Mr. Bush chose to do so, ended the treaty that blocked deployment, and set plans to expand and improve those defenses in the years ahead. His next move is well known.

What Sen. John Kerry will do is not known. He has said he opposes deployment, but he also said he would build defenses while cutting funding for them. His Senate record speaks volumes. He and his colleague Ted Kennedy have the most liberal Senate voting records. Over the years, they consistently have opposed defense spending and missile defense.

Mr. Kennedy was instrumental in killing the Safeguard missile defense 29 years ago. If Mr. Kerry and Mr. Kennedy take control of national defense, you can bet they will do it again.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.

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